The film features interviews with Lyra McKee's family and friends and voice recordings from her phone, computer and dictaphone
Her death caused an outcry in Ulster and beyond, and a divided society was briefly united in outrage and grief. But Alison Millar’s documentary refuses to focus on McKee’s martyrdom and instead gives us a sense of who she really was. Millar, a family friend, was granted access to McKee’s extended family and friends, and what emerges is a picture of a dynamic, talented, caring woman who had so much more to say.
Through video footage, we catch glimpses of McKee as a little girl, bookish at an early age, and squirming around uncomfortably in her communion dress. Born in 1990, she grew up in Belfast’s Ardoyne, one of the areas worst hit by the still raging Troubles. As a child she recalled her mother giving out to her for playing with toy guns in the yard in case the army helicopters that hovered above might mistake them for real ones.
Instead of shying away from all that conflict, McKee was fascinated by it, and by her early teens had decided she wanted to become an investigative journalist. She won a Sky News Young Journalist Award at 16, and came to wider public attention when she posted a blog entitled “Letter to my 14-year-old self”, in which she described the challenges of growing up gay in Northern Ireland.
As her journalistic career hit its stride, McKee reported on the Ballymurphy massacre, the North’s disproportionately high suicide rate, and before her death had started a book, The Lost Boys, which investigated the disappearance of two young boys in 1970s Belfast. She’d signed a two-book deal with Faber & Faber and was about to propose to her girlfriend. Then came that bullet.
Millar’s excellent, clearheaded film includes poignant interviews with McKee’s sister, cousins and her mother, who died almost a year after the shooting; according to the family, she died of grief. “I hope that’s the end of it,” her sister says, “I hope that bullet doesn’t travel any further.”
The documentary also includes footage of McKee’s funeral, where northern politicians who were refusing (then as now) to share power and form a government, squirmed in their pews while Father Martin Magill excoriated all and sundry for their cynicism and inaction.
But this film is not about McKee’s death, but her life. Interviews and archive footage are interspersed with segments of McKee’s clear, concise, lyrical writing, and constantly we hear her disembodied voice, asking hard questions, laughing with friends, pondering the tragic conundrum that is Northern Ireland. Three years on, Lyra McKee’s loss is keenly felt: her killer has never been caught.
Lyra will open in Irish and UK cinemas on Friday 4th November.